Quincy News

Marker highlighting exploits of Civil War soldier dedicated at Woodland

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 14, 2019 12:01 am Updated: Jun. 14, 2019 11:36 pm

QUINCY -- A small but enthusiastic crowd showed up Friday morning at Woodland Cemetery to salute a Civil War soldier who played a role in one of the war's most memorable events -- the "Great Locomotive Chase" of April 1862.

Martin J. Hawkins of Ohio, who is buried at Woodland, went on to receive a Medal of Honor for his participation in the railroad incident. But the headstone placed at his grave after he died in 1886 makes no mention of his involvement.

The Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County and the Tri-State Civil War Roundtable wanted to do something about that oversight. So the groups raised money and commissioned Harrison Monuments to place an additional marker near Hawkins' grave to provide information about his connection to the train caper.

The 12-inch by 12-inch black granite marker was dedicated Friday.

In a 13-minute ceremony, three members of the Historical Society and the Civil War Roundtable -- Beth Young, Richard Keppner and Tim Jacobs -- spoke about Hawkins and the role he played. The ceremony also featured a rifle salute by the American Legion Post 37 honor guard and the playing of taps by Young.

Jacobs noted that Hawkins was one of 22 Union soldiers who volunteered to take part in the "Great Locomotive Chase." Two civilians also were involved, including James J. Andrews, who led the Union group deep into Confederate territory where the train incident took place.

Jacobs said the soldiers traveled by train to Marietta, Ga., with plans to hijack a locomotive in Big Shanty, Ga. -- now known as Kennesaw -- and then drive the train to Chattanooga, Tenn. They planned to destroy railroad bridges, take out sections of track and cut telegraph wires as a way to cut off supply lines and make it easier for Major Gen. Ormsby Mitchel to capture Chattanooga.

"It was pretty audacious plan," Jacobs said.

On the morning of April 12, 1862, the team of soldiers got up early to head over to Big Shanty to hijack a train called "The General."

"This is where the Martin Hawkins part of this stops," Jacobs said, noting how Hawkins and another soldier missed out on the hijacking because they got separated from the main group.

"I've heard three stories" why Hawkins got sidetracked, Jacobs told the crowd.

One story says Hawkins and the other soldier were staying in a different hotel than the other troops and a hotel employee "forgot to wake them up, and they slept right through" the group's departure to Big Shanty.

The second story was that the two men woke up late and chased after "The General" on foot as it left Marietta.

The third story, Jacobs said, was told to him by a tour guide when he visited Kennesaw. "They told the story that he (Hawkins) was on lookout at Big Shanty, and Andrews (the leader) kind of pulled the switch a little quick and took off and forgot to go tell them," Jacobs said.

"So you can pick whichever story you want."

As it turned out, the troops who commandeered "The General" started heading for Chattanooga, cutting some telegraph wires and dislodging some sections of track along the way while being pursued by a different train of Southerners trying to stop them.

Eventually "The General" ran out of fuel 18 miles from Chattanooga. Andrews and his men took off running, but most were eventually captured. Hawkins and the other Union soldier also were arrested.

After Andrews and seven other Union prisoners were sentenced to death and hanged, Hawkins and seven other prisoners escaped and found their way back to Union lines.

After the war, Hawkins married a woman who had a son living in Quincy. They ended up moving to Quincy, where Hawkins died in 1886.

Among those turning out for Friday's ceremony was Jack Freiburg, a history buff who also is a member of the Historical Society's governing board.

Freiburg said the Great Railroad Chase was "an interesting little chapter in the history of the Civil War," and he feels it's an honor for Quincy to have a Medal of Honor-winning participant buried at Woodland Cemetery.

Freiburg noted how the Great Railroad Chase served as the inspiration many years ago for a Buster Keaton silent movie, "The General."

"It's regarded as Buster Keaton's masterpiece," he said.

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